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Anna McClellan on Connie Converse – How Sad, How Lovely

The upcoming LP from Omaha songwriter Anna McClellan is a bare, honest portrayal of self-doubt, self-deprecation, love, loss, and the meandering moments between. Where others would seek to sand the edges of their songs to a smooth perfection, McClellan seems to enjoy the splinters and broken edges. Organs saw against the grain of hooks, her voice quakes, and woodwinds creak in nervous sways. Those splinters draw blood, though, and the record stays with you, popping into the subconscious throughout the day. Anna’s lyrics are there with a knowing smirk. As such I figured she’d be another great candidate for a dive below the surface of the record collection for a Gems piece. Check out her take on the recently unearthed collection by Connie Converse below.

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Jen Powers on Jan Dukes de Grey – Sorcerers

Over the last couple of years Jen, along with her partner Matthew Rolin, have garnered acclaim for their live sets, issued to cassettes, culminating in an excellent album for Feeding Tube earlier in the year. The pair have also issued a limited run cassette as a trio with Jason Gerycz (Cloud Nothings) that expands into a noisier nook than they hang in on their own. With another tape just released in Trouble In Mind’s new experimental series, its shaping up to be quite a year for the duo. Jen’s hammered dulcimer adds a touch of crystalline beauty to their works and she’s long been a self-professed folk nerd on social media, giving me every reason to reach out and see what gems she has hiding in her collection. Jen’s picked a record that’s long found its way into the hands of obsessive collectors, but has been finally getting a bit of its own due this year. Find out how the debut from Jan Dukes de Grey made its way into her collection.

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Jim Jupp on Caravan – The Land of Grey and Pink

One of the more consistent labels that’s popped up around RSTB over the years has been UK house Ghost Box. The label’s approach to gorgeously layered psychedelic electronic combined with a design sense driven by the legendary Julian House makes each new entry an essential piece of a larger puzzle. The label is headed by Jim Jupp, but he’s not only the driving force behind the label, he’s also one of their stable of artists. Combining a whimsical nostalgia with deep synth atmospherics, he crops up in the guise of The Belbury Poly and The Belbury Circle. Jim’s definitely the kind of deep shelf record listener that the Hidden Gems series was made for, so I couldn’t resist asking for a pick when the latest Belbury Poly album came ‘round this year. He’s landed on a key Canterbury prog classic from Caravan — the expansive The Land of Grey and Pink. Check out how this album came into his life and the impact it’s made.

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Larry Schemel on Opal – Happy Nightmare Baby

L.A. musician Larry Schemel’s almost over qualified for the Hidden Gems column, having created a few of them himself. The guitarist has held down time in ‘90s underground faves Kill Sybil/Sybil and Midnight Movies, contributed to The Flesh Eaters repertoire and has been anchoring Death Valley Girls for the last few years. Larry certainly seems like a source of some deep shelf picks for this column so I reached out to see what he might recommend. He picked a favorite that I share as well, opting for the sole LP proper from Opal. Hear how this pre-Mazzy Star nugget came into his life and the impact it has had on him over the years.

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Dylan Sizemore on Bruce Haack – The Electric Lucifer

I’ve had the new Frankie and the Witch Fingers on the deck for a while now and it only gets better and deeper with each spin. The record is an interconnected odyssey of psychedelic excess that lifts the listener from this temporal plane and into a parallel dimension of glowing psychosis and psilocybin-induced evolution. The colors in the mind match the visual barrage of Will Sweeney’s saturated cover art and the band has never sounded hungry to cross the time-space rift than now. I snagged Witch Fingers’ driving force Dylan Sizemore to dig deep for a pick in the Hidden Gems series and he obliged with a psychedelic odyssey of his own. Check out Dylan’s take on Bruce Haack’s electronic epic The Electric Lucifer below.

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Raven Mahon on Roland Blinn – Rosebud

When writing up The Green Child this week I mentioned that they’re mining some real fun off-kilter synth pop tendencies, finding blending The Creatures and Strawberry Switchblade with jangled touches. One thing I’ve long learned, though, is that while there may be some scars inherent in a record that by no means dictates an artist’s current obsessions. Raven Mahon might be familiar here from her work in The Green Child, but perhaps more so as a member of Grass Widow. The band was long a favorite from the beginning of the last decade, mining post-punk and jangle pop with a carefree flair. I’d asked Raven for a Hidden Gems pick and she’s found an offbeat chem that certainly meets up to the overlooked part of the equation. Check out her take on Canadian songwriter Roland Blinn’s LP Rosebud.

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Amy Hill on Pink Flamingos – We Never Close

Amy Hill has been a regular around here, having been RSTB faves Terry, Primo!, and Constant Mongrel. She’s got another record on the way with Al Montfort as the hard to pin down Sleeper & Snake. The band’s sounds are rooted in synth pop, but they incorporate a clash of jangles, muffled and delirious horns for a haunted edge to their songwriting. Its a post-punk record in the truest sense, feeling through the disparate waters for sounds that might compliment each other and just as often, shake the listener off balance. I’d talked with Amy after the last Primo! record, which was a fave but fates aligned for her to be able to contribute a pick to the Hidden Gems series this time around. Figuring with all the influences in her collective work some post-punk treasure might arise, but I love that this column always keeps me on my toes. Check out Amy’s pick — the Kiwi pub rock curio from The Pink Flamingos below.

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Design Inspiration: Brian Blomerth

Checking in here with another round of Design Inspiration, and this time its from a longtime favorite. Brian Blomerth has popped up in a lot of familiar corners with his idiosyncratic psychedelic style, rooted in his “Adult Contemporary Dog-Face” characters with a proclivity for lush color surroundings. His work has dotted tour posters, comics, and album covers alike, working early on with artists like Videohippos before gracing Anthology compilations and Ryley Walker LPs. Last year he penned an ambitious graphic novel that depicts a historical account of the events of April 19, 1943, when Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann ingested an experimental dose of a new compound known as lysergic acid diethylamide. He’s also, incidentally, the designer of the North Americans’ cover from the review earlier this morning. While his style is a feast for the eyes, its inherent psychedelism makes its perfect for the album cover and I’d asked him to pick five favorite covers of all time for the Design Inspiration column. Check out Brian’s picks below and if you get a chance to pick up any of his work outside of his albums and books I’d highly recommend it. Keep an eye on Pups In Trouble to snag limited run shirts in lush tye-die that are nothing less than amazing.

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Anatomy of Design: Cut Worms

If it’s escaped your radar, the new Cut Worms is something of a heart-worn gem — an album that’s rooted in the lonesome cowboy strain that infected the West Coast rock songwriters from Gene Clark to Michael Nesmith. There’s an earnest nature to the record that’s bittersweet but able to walk into the wind and wilds with determination. Now while most know Max Clarke for his songwriting he is, in fact, an accomplished visual artist as well and his works have graced Cut Worms covers in the past, including the sculpture from 2018’s Hollow Ground. For the latest release, he’s created a series of inspired illustrations that mark each single on Nobody Lives Here Anymore. I spoke with Max about the ideas behind this new series and some of the design inspiration that drives him and his work.

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R.E. Seraphin on Empire – Expensive Sound

Ray Seraphin’s released a pair of great EPs over the past year and both have embraced a line between power pop and indie pop toggling the line of the ‘80s underground with a delicate grace. Over the years Ray has joined up with bands on the more punk half of the divide — Talkies, Apache, Buzzer — but as he’s moved further into the year Seraphin has been pushing into Sarah Records territory with ease and it looks good on him. I asked Ray to chip in a pick for the Hidden Gems series and he’s nabbed an underground favorite that’s a bit far from either end of his spectrum in terms of its source, but not so far from the tender impact that Seraphin’s music has on the listener. Check out his take on Empire’s Expensive Sound and hear how it came into his life.

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